When I hopped off the bus at lunch time on Thursday and dug my little Olympus out of my pocket to take some photos of the Old Town Hall I didn’t expect to cry, but that’s what I did. I was biting my lip, looking at the ruined roof, the sky visible through the shocked windows. How did people cope with the Blitz? Buildings like old friends burned down night after night. The accumulated sense of loss must have been almost unbearable. I suppose that “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be” mentality got them through at the time, but it is easy to see why the years following the Second World War were in some ways even harder than the war itself.
At first sight, on ground level at least, things don’t look too bad, though the sad half open door and the lingering smell of smoke don’t bode well.
Those lovely details around the capitals have survived, the brick is still a gentle red. It’s when you look up, or view the building from across the Walworth Road that the truer picture is revealed.
The library is intact, but archives stored in the basement have been damaged, and the building will be closed for some time.
Somewhere around 750 artefacts from the Cuming Collection were unaccounted for on Wednesday, and 500 were rescued but badly damaged. I heard that employees of the museum stayed all Monday night to help with the salvage. The Cuming Collection is incredibly diverse and of woprldwide interest. It is also a great source for Walworth’s history, the hobbies and local interests of the Cumings giving a unique insight into a time gone by. Looking at the building from Wansey Street the extent of the damage becomes clearer.
This is where I saw flames leaping from the roof at lunchtime on Monday. At the height of the fire there were twenty fire engines and crew working to bring it under control.
It makes me think of the fire at Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre.
The scaffolders were hard at work, and maybe by now the whole building is surrounded and covered in green netting to keep the structure safe.
From across the street I looked at the borough coat of arms and misread the words underneath as United We Strive.
I doubt if I shall post again soon about Walworth’s Old Town Hall, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that there is no worse news to be broken about this building where the old council chamber has been destroyed and the interior so cruelly gutted.